NASA FIRMS enhances fire detection in Canada’s Northwest Territories

June 12, 2024

Fire management in the Northwest Territories

Data from NASA’s Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) is assisting the Northwest Territories Department of Environment and Climate Change in managing wildfires, as reported by NASA.

FIRMS provides rapid access to satellite imagery, information about active fires and hotspots, and related products to help users identify the location, extent, and intensity of wildfire activity.

Gordon Seymour, GIS and Wildfire Data Technician with the Department of Environment and Climate Change for the government of Canada’s Northwest Territories, emphasizes the importance of FIRMS in his fire detection work.

Seymour said: “Having access to [FIRMS] has become an integral part of our work.

“Any kind of technological assistance we can garner to help us keep an eye on things is most welcome.

“Having FIRMS hotspot detections is absolutely crucial for us to have in our toolbox.”

NASA FIRMS data in action

The Northwest Territories cover over 1.3 million square kilometers and have an estimated population of 45,000.

Seymour highlighted the vastness of the territory, explaining: “If I were to go out on a detection patrol, usually in a small aircraft, a round trip from my community of Fort Smith to the southeast corner of our region is about 700 miles.

We often don’t go that far, but occasionally we’ll need to go and have a look to confirm detections that we’ve noticed.”

FIRMS hotspot detection data make this task easier.

Seymour explained: “Fire detection is one of the primary things we use FIRMS for.

“Basically, we’ll go out and physically confirm that a notification we’ve received is indeed a fire, and ensure they are not possibly false hits.”

Challenges and solutions

The fire season in the Northwest Territories typically runs from May 1 to October 1, but recent seasons have started earlier and lasted longer.

The 2023 fire season saw 236 active fires in mid-August, prompting a territory-wide state of emergency and the largest evacuation in NWT history.

Seymour noted: “[2023 was] an unprecedented fire season. I’ve never seen anything like it, both in terms of the general extreme drought conditions and the actual fire weather we experienced in those conditions.”

In such busy seasons, confirming numerous hotspot detections is challenging.

Seymour and his colleagues often receive 20 to 30 fire notifications an hour. FIRMS data helps them prioritize fires.

Seymour said: “We’ll pull up our values database, which shows the locations of structures and overlay it with MODIS or VIIRS detections.

“If we receive a notification that’s close to a structure, we will prioritize that location and go have a look and assess the situation.”

FIRMS foundations and benefits

FIRMS’ active fire data are derived from the MODIS and VIIRS instruments.

MODIS flies aboard NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites, while VIIRS flies aboard the joint NASA-NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership and the Joint Polar Satellite System’s NOAA-20 and -21 satellites.

These instruments detect radiated energy, providing near real-time data on potential wildfires or hotspots.

Seymour explained the utility of FIRMS data: “If we notice there’s two more hits beside the first in the next day, then there’s a good chance that there’s an active fire.

“We’ll often use [satellite] imagery from Landsat or Sentinel-2 to see smoke. If we see smoke on the imagery at the same location, then it’s a pretty sure bet it’s an active fire.”

Read Next

Subscribe Now